Kiss Me, Kate continues at the Grand Theatre, Leeds until 31 October before touring to Theatre Royal Newcastle, The Lowry Salford Quays and Theatre Royal Nottingham.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★
So, the next step in Opera North’s journey through the Golden Age of Musicals brings us to Cole Porter.
There is little doubt that this is the cleverest of the species but not, I think, the most appealing. The device of contrasting onstage glamour and backstage squalor is only one of a number of intriguing antinomies that reflect the major battle of the sexes theme, but few can feel comfortable with the final submission scene, however it is played.
Director Jo Davies gives us a first act that is overly busy, with the chorus occasionally distracting attention from the featured singer. However, there is plenty of energy to reflect a cast assembling for ‘Another Op’nin’, Another Show’. Act II is much calmer and all the better for it. Davies may soon be nicknamed ‘The Blender’ if she continues to make seamless musical theatre performed by an array of artist from very different backgrounds.
Colin Richmond’s costume and set designs reinforce the onstage/backstage contrast and are outright sumptuous for the final scene in Baptista’s house with ‘I Am Ashamed That Women Are So Simple’. Complex scene changes are handled efficiently and instrumental in maintaining pace.
As in so many musicals of the era, Cole Porter opted for lead and support couples as a plot device. The more operatic characters, Fred Graham/Petruchio and Lilli Vanessi/Kate, are taken by Opera North favourites Quirijn de Lang and Jeni Bern respectively. Both show considerable adaptability in meeting the demands of substantial speaking roles. Quirijn de Lang in particular just gets better and better. Bern’s acting skills are fully tested by ‘I Hate Men’, but she gives an awesomely convincing rendition. By contrast, ‘So In Love’ tingles the spine.
It is misleading to speak of Lois Lane/Bianca (Tiffany Graves) and Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (Ashley Day) as providing comic relief, since comedy runs throughout the show, but in relative terms, that is their role. These two have musical theatre backgrounds and are making their Opera North debuts.
Graves’ voice has exactly the right brassy tone for the temptress that may, or may not, have attracted Fred’s wandering eye. Her main songs: ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ and ‘Always True to You in My Fashion’ strike just the right note, somewhere between the ingenue and the trollop. Day’s big moment comes in an audience pleasing tap number, ‘Bianca’, that sees him hoofing with the best of them.
Scene stealers? Oh yes, you know where I am going. The comic genius that is Joseph Shovelton, ably supported by John Savournin, raise eyebrows and fire pistols with exquisite timing. They bring off ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ with great style.
The Opera North orchestra, supplemented by additional brass players, are ably conducted by David Charles Abell, whose extensive knowledge of, and research into, the score has clearly paid dividends.
Reservations? I think that the device of milking applause by inserting multiple (yes, multiple) false endings is becoming tiresome. But I seemed to be in a minority of one as the full house at the Leeds Grand relished the performances and were happy to digest more.